While the formal rejection this week of the concept of expanding the St. Lawrence Seaway is cause for celebration, that decision by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers should not be the end of the discussion about that man-made channel for ocean going vessels.
Dan Egan, the environmental writer for the Milwaukee JournalSentinel who has done more for sounding the alarm about the condition of the Great Lakes than any other American, reported recently that there are now nine trillion quagga mussels lining the floor of the five lakes. They are starving indigenous fish species as they devour the plankton food base. They have decimated the fishery. The last commercial fishermen have pulled out of Milwaukee.
These mussels came through the St. Lawrence Seaway in contaminated ballast water ejected from the ocean freighters, along with an estimated 160 other new species.
The damage to the fishery can only be calculated in the billions of dollars annually.
On the other hand, no one has successfully disputed this finding; the ocean vessel traffic made possible by the Seaway saves only $55 million annually compared to other forms of transportation. With only a little extra cost, their cargo could be put aboard trucks or trains to move it inland from the east coast.
Only 5% of the ship traffic on the Great Lakes is ocean-going. The rest is domestic to the U.S. and Canada.
Let’s do the math and the economic logic: billions of dollars of damage annually from the invasive species against a few millions of dollars in transportation savings. The answer is obvious:
Congress should immediately order an analysis on the closing of the Seaway. Don’t wait for the slow-moving, often-wrong Corps to do it. Do it now.